By Bhavan Kumar
What should we do about students with pre-existing injuries? New students are often drawn to yoga practice as the result of a profound life change, and injuries are no exception. What could be a better motivator than an injury, especially when it reduces an individual’s quality of life? These types of students can present a unique challenge to yoga teachers, particularly if the student fails to inform the teacher of the pre-existing injury on their own.
Conducting an interview with new students before they participate in group practice is an excellent way to evaluate their physical ability in addition to identifying any pre-existing injuries that the individual may not have disclosed. Simply having them move through a few asanas should prove quite enlightening. Most students will be upfront about their physical condition, but some may fear that they will be turned away if they admit to having a history of serious back problems, a torn ACL, or some other major issue. If the yoga teacher is warm and encouraging, most people will be forthright.
If the pre-existing injury is a serious one such as a ruptured disc or whiplash, making contact with the student’s doctor or physical therapist may prove to be a wise decision that benefits everyone involved. Medical professionals often do everything possible to help a patient cope with a painful injury, but only so much can be done during a typical appointment. A competent yoga instructor can provide valuable insight regarding the condition of a patient on a more frequent basis, which in turn makes yogic methodology a powerful form of complementary medicine.
The biggest concern while teaching yoga students with pre-existing injuries will be avoiding contraindicated asanas. A student with pre-existing injuries might still be a candidate for a typical class provided that the teacher is able to assign them alternative asanas without disrupting the rest of the class. Having multiple students with serious pre-existing injuries may prove to be more than a single yoga teacher can handle. It’s best not to have too many special students in one class, but if it’s unavoidable, the teacher has the option of educating each individual student about their own limitations and leaving the responsibility of substituting alternative asanas to them. Giving each student a crib sheet with alternative poses to use in place of contraindicated asanas is usually effective, and allows them to be part of a normal yoga class.
Those suffering from painful pre-existing injuries often have their pain compounded and prolonged by losses in physical strength and definition as a result of decreased physical activity. Yoga teachers who are willing to work around their limitations are able to prevent this loss from happening, which greatly speeds overall recovery time. In short, a good yoga teacher makes all the difference.
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Jani Mikkonen, Palle Pedersen, and Peter William McCarthy (2008) A Survey of Musculoskeletal Injury among Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Practitioners. International Journal of Yoga Therapy: 2008, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 59-64.
An Overview of Clinical Applications of Therapeutic Yoga
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